How to Draft in Fantasy Football

Fantasy Football Draft Tips

Knowing how to draft in fantasy football is the key to winner consistently and enjoying your fantasy sports experience. Without a doubt, the yearly fantasy draft is the most important single factor in whether you win or lose.

While it’s fun to compete, it’s a lot more fun to compete and win. Drafting a solid roster of players is how you position yourself to compete all year.

I never understand the fantasy football owners who don’t prepare before time for their draft. You know months and months in advance you’ll be drafting, and fantasy football offseason preparations don’t take that much time out of your day. With the avalanche of online fantasy football websites, tv shows, and ff magazines out there, it’s easy to find up-to-date information to help you draft. Most fantasy leagues have their own website before the draft, and most league homepages have links to all kinds of fantasy news stories, football injury news and updates.

So with all that data to analyze, drafting in fantasy football is about getting organized and having a plan. Here are some quick preparation tips and fantasy strategies you can familiarize yourself with, if you’re a new owner looking to draft a competitive fantasy football team.

  • Get Access to Last Year’s Point Totals
  • Review Offseason NFL Transactions
  • Study the Training Camp News
  • Watch a Little Bit of Preseason
  • Look at Fantasy Football Projections & Cheat Sheets
  • Join a Fantasy Football Mock Draft
  • Build Your Own Draft Lists by Position

Last Season’s Point Totals

If you’ve joined a league that has been in existence at least one year, you should be able to access last year’s points totals for that league (unless you use CBS Sportsline). If you can look at the final fantasy points for the scoring systems you’ll be using for the upcoming season, this is the most useful tool you can have for building a draft list. Most fantasy publications make projections based on offseason moves, like you want to do, but their rankings may be based on a scoring system that’s quite different than your league’s. If so, their list is less valuable to you, as is their advice.

If you can’t get this statistical data, find an online source which offers numbers for the scoring rules closest to your own league’s rules. This lets you study the final standings last year, to see who was most effective in the game you’re playing. This isn’t going to be the end-all of your 2010 rankings, but it’s a good place to start.

Take note of any players who came on in the final 6-8 weeks last year, because these players often continue with their progress into the next season. At the same time, see which players tailed off at the end of the season, then see why they did this. If injuries kept them from performing, you might dismiss this drop-off, but if they just weren’t that good, consider that age or team considerations might be hurting their numbers.

Keep this list to make notes on, because this should be the basis for your player projections moving into the upcoming season.

Review Offseason Transactions

Research what happened in NFL free agency in the off-season. Players move to new teams, setting up new playing situations. Sometimes, that means a player is in a better offense, or a worse offense. Sometimes, that means a young guy finally gets his chance to start, either in his new location, or when a veteran leaves a team and his backup gets the starting position with the team he left. Sometimes, a move to a better offense or better situation vastly improves his chances to put up numbers.

Next, research the NFL Draft for that year. Make a note of all quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends who are coming into the league. If you’re in an IDP league, take a note of all the linebackers and defensive backs coming into the NFL. Project from these inclusions not only how these players are going to do, but also how their presence might affect the production of players on the team they’re joining. Take note that running backs are the most likely to transition quick, while quarterbacks and wide receivers are less likely to make an instant impact. Understand that, many times, rookie additions tend to hurt the production of others at their position, instead of make them a fantasy stud immediately.

Once you have these notes made, starting thinking about which players on your points totals list are likely to be helped or hurt, and place your rookies on your draft board in the rough place you think they might be best drafted.

Study Training Camp News

Look through the training camp news, perhaps buying a subscription to a $30 or $40-per-year fantasy news updates website (The Huddle, Draftsharks), if you’re feeling you want to put a lot of study into your draft list. If not, look at the KFFL Hot Off the Wire page online most days through August, up until the day of your draft. Particularly pay attention to the latest injury news and updates to team depth charts. There are a handful of position battles that go to the wire every preseason, and it’s a killer if you draft a player 5 to 10 rounds too high, because you drafted the new backup. For instance, last year, Ray Rice was named the Baltimore Ravens starting running back in the early stages of training camp, while Kurt Warner wasn’t named the starter in Arizona until after many drafts in 2008.

Watch a Little Preseason Football

Take the preseason games with a grain of salt, since many veterans aren’t going to get much work, and most young guys are playing against players who won’t be on the field in the Fall. What you do look for is NFL speed, agility, and talent, as well as production in the early parts of NFL preseason games. Pay attention to the first quarter of the 1st and 2nd preseason games, then the 1st half of the 3rd preseason game. That’s the only time most NFL starters are going to play. See what production is like then, but even then, don’t make too many decisions based on that limited exposure.

Still, if a rookie runner looks good in this limited play, rank him a little higher. If a rookie linebacker for an IDP league racks up 3 to 5 tackles in the 1st quarter of a game, that’s a good sign. If those same players look good in the later quarters, against backups, take their performance less to heart.

Fantasy Football Projection – Fantasy Football Cheatsheets

Fantasy football projections and cheat sheets are good for seeing what other people think of the players you’re considering, and good for season what’s on the mind of fantasy football experts and veterans. Don’t look at just one list, because you want to get perspective on what you’re thinking, and any one other person could be way off any given year.

Another way to check out what the fantasy football public is thinking is searching for average draft position or ADP lists for 2010. An ADP list compiles the average results from hundreds of real drafts that have taken place online. While you have to wonder about the good sense of leagues that draft this early in the season, it does let you look at the “consensus” opinions of fantasy football owners. If you see something that stands out, research why a player is going so high or so low.

Fantasy Football Mock Drafts

Join a fantasy football mock drafts on a website like AntSports. A mock draft is a practice draft you can join, to pretend you are really drafting players onto a roster. Other owners make their picks, and you can usually join a mock draft with the same number of owners and roughly the same scoring rules as your league. Ant Sports lets you select which position you’ll be drafting in, if you already know your draft position. While the mock draft isn’t going to entirely simulate your league’s draft experience – and the lag time (up to 12 hours) for draft picks the average mock draft can be infuriating – it’s a good way to get ready for your draft.

Don’t get in a hurry, because the first mock draft will take more than a week. Make it through one draft with less than 30 minutes per pick and you qualify for “Serious Mock Draft” status, where the dropout rate and lag time is a lot less of a problem.

Build a Fantasy Football Draft List

Once you have gone through all these steps, you’re ready to sit down and make out your own list. You should already have notes, if you’re printed off last year’s final fantasy point lists and an ADP list. You should have an idea what similar projections look like, so you can gauge the value of draft picks. Then you can make your new draft list by position by manipulating last year’s list with all this new data, moving players up and down, according to your ideas about off-season changes.

Managing the Fantasy Football Draft

Now that you have a draft list, here’s how you handle the day of your fantasy football draft. You want maximum value for your draft picks, so you want to select players according to their value, drafting sleeper players later.

  • Draft According to Tiers
  • Draft Difference Makers at RB/WR
  • Don’t Draft a QB until Round 5
  • Cover the Running Back Position
  • Draft Defenses and Kickers Later

Mark off Players on Your Draft List

When players are drafted, mark them off your draft list. This not only keeps you from calling out all day “Has LeSean McCoy been drafted”, but it also lets you keep track of the value players still left on your list. When a lone name is sitting amidst a bunch of scratch-outs, you know you either completely overvalued that player, or he’s sliding down the draft board and is a value pick.

Draft According to Tiers

Make draft picks in the early rounds according to tiers. That is, draw a line between the 1st tier, 2nd tier and 3rd tier of players at each position, where you think the production drops off starkly. You want to draft players from a tier when that tier is getting low on players, and not start drafting from a brand new tier. This gives you a decent idea of the depth at a position, and how much value you’re getting.

Draft Difference Makers at RB and WR

The heart and soul of your fantasy team is going to be the running back and wide receiver positions. Most league require you to start at least 2 of each, and often up to 3 or 4 at the wide receiver positions. This means, if you stink at either position, you’re going to struggle to fill multiple positions in your starting lineup. For that reason, focus on these players in the first 4 rounds of the draft. You want a solid base to start from, then build from there.

The traditional strategy is to draft running backs in the 1st round. As a general rule, if there are “sole ball carriers” still on the draft board, it’s a good idea to draft that runner. That is, there are so few running backs these day that aren’t in a platoon situation or a running back by committee, that you want to draft as many who are not in those situations as possible. It’s shrunk so small, that that’s often only runners in the 1st round, or a few speculative or 2nd tier guys in the 2nd round. Whatever the case, having an RB on the field for all 3 downs is such a rarity, that it tends to be an advantage, if you get that on your roster.

As for receivers, they can be legitimate (and sometimes brilliant) draft picks in leagues that favor passing stats, such as point-per-reception leagues. Downgrade their status, if you don’t play in a PPR league. Also, remember that there are more receivers to fill positions with than running backs, so the list of good WRs tends to last longer in drafts. With so many backup RBs in 60/40 situations in the NFL, though, you’ll be able to draft productive backup RBs in the 6th to 10th rounds of most drafts, so drafting receivers by the 2nd round isn’t bad strategy anymore. (More on the backup runners later.)

Don’t Draft a QB Until the Fifth

I know, this sounds like one of those hard-and-fast rules that binds your hands, if you follow it blindly in a draft where something crazy happens. This advice is for rookie fantasy football owners, who tend to make the rookie mistake of overvaluing quarterbacks in fantasy football. Read and remember this, if you’re a rookie FF owner: quarterbacks rule in the real NFL, but quarterbacks do not rule in fantasy football.

This is going to sound crazy, especially when you look at the scoring totals of last year and see the quarterbacks are sitting in probably 8 of the top 10 positions on the points list. But that’s why you wait until the 5th round: that’s about when QB #6 through #8 from last year’s numbers are likely to go off the board, and you’ll be able to get a Top 10 fantasy producer from 2009 in the 5th round. If you grab Drew Brees in the 1st round, you can’t say the same about that 5th round running back you’re drafting, instead of Ray Rice or Maurice Jones-Drew.

I’ve been analyzing fantasy football statistics on another website this summer, and here is the short statistic you should know. In a standard scoring format, the different in Aaron Rodgers/Drew Brees and the #10 quarterback from last year is about 5 points-per-game. The difference in the #1 running back and the #10 running back is about 9 points-per-game, while the difference in the #1 and #10 wide receivers and tight ends are about 7 ppg.

That tells you there that you take your shot at the difference makers at running back and wide receivers, since the #10 RB is likely to be drafted in the late-1st, early-2nd round. The #10 wide receiver is likely to go off the board in the 3rd round. The #10 quarterback is likely to be drafted in the 5th or 6th round, while the #10 tight end is likely to be selected in the 7th round or later.

I’m not saying you want to be drafting the #10 producer at each position, but I am saying that’s where you get the most value. To get players at every position who were Top 10 performers last year (and are therefore more likely to reproduce those results, if you draft wisely), you should target backs and receivers high, and quarterback and tight ends a little lower.

Or, if you’re a rookie fantasy football owner, don’t draft a QB until the 5th round (or later). Try it once and see if it doesn’t make your starting lineup look better.

Cover the Running Back Position

I’m not saying you draft RB-RB, which is increasingly out of fashion in today’s fantasy football. I’m saying you want to draft running backs early and often.

When I say early, you want to make a couple of RB picks in the first four rounds. When I say often, you should focus again those rounds from the 6th or 7th to 10th or 12th rounds, since the RBs going off the draft board are likely to be running backs in platoon situations who might turn into a solid producer, by either overtaking the starter or replacing the starter due to injuries. So keep dipping into the running back talent, after you have the basics of your starting lineup (minus DEF and K), when no other obvious pick presents itself in those middle rounds.

Running back is the thinnest position. Running backs get injured the most. That makes solid running back contributions the most essential part of a fantasy football starting lineup, despite the latest trends. Start-able running backs are worth their weight in gold. Good running back depth is worth its weight in gold. This gives you the ability to weather injuries better. It gives you more trade fodder. I guarantee you that you’ll be able to trade a productive runner quicker than a productive receiver, quarterback or tight end, if you’re lucky enough to have that depth (most of us don’t).

Due to the same NFL rules and fantasy football trends that make drafting RB/RB in the first 2 rounds less of a must, those rules mean the number of running backs worth having is larger than it used to be. So once you have your starting core of quarterback, 2 running backs, 2 wide receivers, and a tight end, consider targeting the running back position with several more (3 or more) picks in the 7th to 12th rounds. Not all of these will pan out, but you don’t want to walk out of a draft with a thin or weak RB corps, any more than you used to.

Draft Defenses and Kickers Later

Don’t draft kickers until at least the second-to-last round of your draft, when you might jump the gun to get a marginal upgrade at the position, before everyone else starts picking them over. Don’t make drafting a K a huge priority, though. There will be good kickers to pick up off the waiver wire, if you miss on the one PK you draft.

Don’t be the first one to draft a defense. I would say you shouldn’t be one of the first five owners to draft a defense. In fact, if you don’t gets many fantasy points for “Points Against” or “Yards Against” stats, they are almost all about the same, anyway.

If Team Defenses can score big numbers, pay a little more attention to them, but don’t be the one to jump the gun and ruin your value picks at other positions by drafting the New York Jets Defense in the 6th or 7th round. Instead, research which defenses were good last year and target solid defenses with good schedules. The fluctuation in Team DEF is so wild from one year to the next, because you’re predicting how 11+ players are going to perform (or stay healthy), instead of 1, so that most of last year’s Top 10 defenses won’t be Top 10 defenses this year.

Worry about the offensive skill positions and draft defenses smartly in the second half of your draft, and you won’t be much less likely to hit on a defense than drafting them 5 rounds higher. Even if you miss, a few good defenses tend to be on the waiver wire, once the season starts.

Drafting to Win in Fantasy Football

Now that you’ve read this article, you know how to draft in fantasy football. With the volatility of today’s NFL and the high rate of injuries in fantasy football, you can never be certain a solid draft turns into a fantasy playoff team. But drafting according to the principles listed above give you the best chance to compete at a high level in your league. With a few deft free agent acquisitions and maybe a profitable trade, you should be a playoff contender with as good of a chance as anyone to win your fantasy football league.

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